Best-selling S.C. author Pat Conroy’s writing and persona combine story telling with deep pain and high comedy.
On Sunday, both his story telling and comedy were on display at the S.C. Book Festival, which he attended to promote a new fiction imprint of the University of South Carolina Press called Story River Books.
To an afternoon audience of some 200 who attended a panel he was on, Conroy spun a tale about recently being seated next to Dallas Cowboy legend Roger Staubach, who won a Heisman trophy at Navy in the 1960s.
“He’s completely bored, he doesn’t know who I am. Of course, I know everything about him. He says, ‘Pat, where’d you go to college?’ I said, ‘The Citadel.’ He says, “I have heard of The Citadel. Isn’t it a small military high school outside of Durham, North Carolina?’”
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Conroy continued: “I said, ‘Isn’t the Naval Academy a small unknown sewage plant on the edge of Annapolis, Maryland?”
Much laughter. The point of that story, which he eventually got to, was that many people outside the state look down on, or are unaware of, South Carolina, but the state does hold people capable of great achievement.
Later, in the book signing line, which lasted more than two hours, Conroy conversed with hundreds of people. Toward the end, he was clearly delighted at seeing a five-year-old child in line along with her mom.
“Have you seen Beauty and the Beast?” a smiling Conroy asked the girl. People bent to listen.
She shook her head no.
“I wrote it,” said Conroy. “Have you seen the Lion King?”
Yes, she said..
“I wrote it,” said Conroy, “Have you seen Frozen?”
Yes, she said.
“I wrote it,” said Conroy. “I’m glad you’ve seen some of my movies.”
It was a vivid demonstration of how Conroy, who often unleashes in his books unimaginable stories of pain and family dysfunction, has an engaging, wildly humorous and spontaneous side.